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Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds

Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds

Paul Kelly on the inspiration behind his latest collaboration.

Iconic Australian singer-songwriter Paul Kelly needs no introduction.

Across his almost 50-year career, the beloved Australian musician has captured the hearts of fans across Australia and beyond with his inimitable lyrics, musical style and immediately recognisable vocals.  

Every musical project Paul Kelly touches receives acclaim, and his latest Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds is no different. Joining forces with composer James Ledger, the two have crafted a song cycle set to be performed by Anna Goldsworthy, Helen Ayers, Tim Nankervis, Alice Keith alongside James and Paul themselves. 

It's a song cycle inspired by their fascination with birds and what they symbolise. Why birds, you may ask? 

Paul Kelly tells us how Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds came together:

L-R: Paul, Anna, Helen, James, Tim, Alice

Anna Goldsworthy approached me two years ago about the possibility of doing a show with her trio Seraphim. She suggested a collaboration with our friend James with whom we’d both worked before. 

Being a big admirer of James and Anna’s work, I needed no second invitation. After a few discussions we decided on our frame – to set poetry about birds to music. Birds have fascinated poets for centuries, not just for their song and flight but as symbols: of hope, freedom, love, communication, peace, luck – good and bad - and migration. 

And what better way to honour them than by sending songs out into the air? 

We started tossing poems, old and new, back and forth and James and I set to work. Long distance, mostly, sending sketches between Melbourne and Perth with a few face to face, mano-a-mano sessions. 

We recruited Alice Keath for her distinctive singing and instrumental skills on banjo, auto-harp, glockenspiel, percussion and synthesizer. James fired up his electric guitar with effects pedals and at our first workshop in July 2018 we sensed a hybrid winged beast emerging from the pages of our poets via our muscles, brains, hearts and mouths.

We’ve aimed to create an evocative soundscape, each poem its own world, delicate and intimate at times, colossal and grinding at others, with all states in between, all the while celebrating winged creatures from the barn owl to the nightingale, from the thornbill to the falcon, from the magpie to the swan. We’re confident it will fly!

Paul Kelly in Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds swoops in to Melbourne Recital Centre for two shows on Friday 14 June

‘Part art music, part poetry reading and part folk-rock oratorio, it was by turns profoundly moving, playful and darkly atmospheric’ - Cameron Woodhead, The Age
Thirteen Ways to Look at Birds Live

This show would not have been possible without the glorious impression made by birds on the artists. To our great dismay, these wild creatures - our magnificent muses - face threat worldwide. We ask that you please learn more about how you may assist in the protection of birdlife near you - for the sake of the birds and for the beauty they bring. More information can be found at

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